The New European Pirates

Europeans are up in arms about proposed antipiracy legislation. If it passes, it could be a harbinger of darker times.

The Commission is frantically attempting to dispel perceived similarities with the two maligned U.S. proposals, SOPA and PIPA. Although trade agreements have traditionally been negotiated behind closed doors, the degree of opacity in the ACTA negotiations—even from stakeholders involved in the process such as legislators and affected industries—has been marked, presaging the backlash that has taken place in the EU over the past month.

Since the introduction of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009, the European Parliament has positioned itself as a guardian of privacy, data protection and freedom from heavy policing by states. Armed with its newfound role in international agreements, the EP promptly struck down the EU’s accord with the United States on terrorist-finance tracking, known as SWIFT, on the grounds that it did not properly safeguard Europeans’ data-privacy rights. The EP only approved SWIFT after a painstaking renegotiation. The Passenger Name Record (PNR) agreement between Brussels and Washington, which provides for sharing of information about persons in transit, is currently undergoing a similarly arduous process.

Already grumbling about its lack of consultation and the secrecy with which ACTA was negotiated, some in the EP were salivating at the opportunity to reject the high-profile agreement. The French EP member responsible for drafting the body’s opinion on ACTA resigned in protest to the lack of open discussion and consolation with his legislature. At the time, he skewered the terms under which the agreement had been negotiated, describing them as a “masquerade.” The Austrian leader of the S&D, the EP’s main Center-Left group, stated: “Our main criticism relates to copyright enforcement on the internet and the definition and monitoring of activities online. The text is too vague and we need to have clarification of the role of Internet service providers (ISPs) in policing the agreement.” The Socialists released a statement condemning the agreement as “wrong in both content and process,” and the party leader, the former Bulgarian prime minister Sergei Stanishev, said that he was “proud” that his party was the first to come out against the agreement.

ACTA faced similarly dismal prospects in Germany and Central Europe. Some governments, such as those of Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia, see the agreement as a potential violation of privacy and an abdication of users’ rights. In Warsaw, demonstrators put a mask of the seventeenth-century Catholic protest leader Guy Fawkes on a statue of Ronald Reagan and threatened to do the same to other statues throughout the country. Slovenias ambassador to Japan has publicly apologized for signing the agreement, which she said she did out of “civic carelessness.” The Romanian government has been publicly admonished for its signature, and the Bulgarian parliament is unlikely to ratify the Sofia government’s signature, making ACTA effectively meaningless.

Europe as Harbinger